One of the best autumn activities in Michigan is an outing to view the brilliant color show put on by yellow beeches, red maples, and bronze oaks as they prepare for cool weather. Once the show is over, homeowners begin the work of raking leaves.
Many people burn leaves to dispose of them. Cities and townships often prohibit this, however, and debris burning is recognized as the number one cause of wildfires in Michigan. In 2018, debris burning caused 98 fires responded to by our wildland firefighters.
"Debris fires started with leaves, grass clippings, and other light materials are difficult to manage and can be disrupted by wind," said State Fire Supervisor Dan Laux. "They can quickly grow out of control and threaten people's homes and forest lands."
An easier and safer solution is composting. Composting involves scooping leaves into a pile or containing them in a bin and leaving them to naturally decompose. Veggie scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells can also be added, cutting down on kitchen waste. Just don't add items like meat scraps that can smell bad and attract pests.
"Composting is an easy way to take care of fall leaves and has the added benefit of cutting down on smoke and airborne particles that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions," said Jenifer Dixon, an air quality specialist at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
Composting also provides rich fertilizer for gardens and landscape plants. Bins can be purchased or constructed out of low-cost materials such as the one pictured made of reused pallets. Learn more about composting with this handy info sheet on composting.
If a compost pile isn't ideal, you can also use a lawn mower to shred leaves and compost them in place where they will fertilize the grass. You can also mulch perennial beds with shredded leaves or till them right into garden soil.
If you choose to burn leaves, visit Michigan.gov/BurnPermit or check local regulations to see if a permit is required. Check the daily fire danger rating and use proper fire safety etiquette: Never leave a fire unattended, keep a shovel nearby, and have a water source ready.
Check out yesterday's edition of MI Environment to learn about what you can and cannot legally burn in Michigan, and come back tomorrow to find out about burning structures.
Story and photo courtesy of Rachel Coale, Michigan DNR